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Neutral Zone Wrap: Who's on the rebound?

by | Rotowire.com
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The regular season is here. Hallelujah!

Hope you had a relaxing summer, one where absolutely nothing happened except for the anticipation of meaningful NHL action. OK, so maybe you moved to another country and got married. But even if those events took place in the last few months, then your sights must have remained locked on hockey.

You may have forgotten some material since the Blackhawks shocked the Bruins (and us) in Game 6 of the Cup Final. Hope you have perused the other site resources and articles and feel sufficiently caught up. But if you're craving one more piece to get you going, then you're in luck.

There's always room for improvement. Not only in your leagues but also for actual NHLers who are poised to step up their game. Here are a few hopefuls who may not be getting the most attention or may be maligned for recent indiscretions but could serve as fantasy gold. (NOTE: These individuals could end up depreciating in value but that would depend on uncontrollable factors or how you use them in your lineup. In other words, plan accordingly.)

(For other related examples, be sure to check out Jan Levine's sleepers article.)

Brad Boyes, F, Panthers: Posted very respectable numbers with the Islanders in 2012-13 (35 points in 48 games, including 13 on the power-play) but was probably pushed out due to a forward glut. On a relatively young Panther lineup, Boyes was brought aboard on a tryout basis and has seamlessly fit in on a line with Kris Versteeg and rookie Aleksander Barkov. Don't expect any eye-popping figures; somewhere in the 50-point range will suffice.

Jannik Hansen, F, Canucks: The recipient of a new four-year, $10 million contract will be asked to assume more responsibility. In his five-year career, the Danish winger has excelled as a shorthanded contributor and is slowly working his way as a dependable top-six forward (note the 27 in 47 last year). With Zack Kassian maintaining his penchant for on-ice stupidity, it would seem Hansen is firmly positioned as the second right winger on the Canucks' depth chart and a spot on one of the power-play units.

Jussi Jokinen, F, Penguins: Fine, so Jokinen became an immediate success (11 in 10) after arriving from Carolina in April. But it was presumed the Finn wouldn't be able to repeat this feat skating on the third or fourth unit. In training camp and exhibition action, he has displayed great chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal (including a hat-trick against Columbus). And it seems that anyone who teams up with that duo should be destined for something better than average. It's funny to think the Canes are still paying a quarter of Jokinen's salary as part of their giveaway sweepstakes.

Ryan Miller, G, Sabres: You might be surprised to see the 2010 Vezina winner listed in this category but Miller belongs here. His stats last season 'slipped' to a 17-17-5 record with a 2.81 GAA, mainly a factor of a fresh Sabres squad that finished last in the Northeast. Some of the media and fan pressure looks like it eventually affected Miller, although he kept his cool and proved to be Buffalo's best player on many nights. Fortunately, there are three factors working in his favor. First off, Miller will undoubtedly want to prove his detractors wrong and step up his game. Secondly, his long-term contract expires next summer and he will want to exhibit his top skills for a new deal. And finally, the starter from Vancouver 2010 will be motivated for Sochi in his bid to reclaim the #1 job for the US squad. (Jonathan Quick appears to be the current frontrunner.)

Sami Salo, D, Lightning: A lot more was expected of Salo after inking a deal with the Bolts before last season. After all, the now-39 year old has always been known for his cannon from the point. And although Tampa finished in the top-half of the league in power-play percentage (13th at 19%), he wasn't a major factor (seven PPPs, 17 overall) and only managed a shot per game (with a paltry two goals). With a season in the Sunshine State under his belt and no Vincent Lecavalier to hinder backline man-advantage opportunities, expect Salo to increase his frequency hitting the net and continue scaring the bejeezus out of opposing goalies.

Honorable mention: Justin Abdelkader, F, Detroit; Josh Bailey, F, NY Islanders; Colin Greening, F, Ottawa; Adam Larsson, D, New Jersey; Tim Thomas, G, Florida

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Player News
Cody Eakin
Eakin Agrees To Four-Year Extension With Stars
Cody Eakin, C, DAL
8/28/2015
News: Cody Eakin agreed to a four-year, $15.4 million contract extension with the Stars on Friday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: The 24-year-old was a solid producer for the Stars in 2014-15, registering 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 78 games with the team. He will likely return to his role centering the Stars' third line this season, and should produce similarly barring significant injury.

Elias Lindholm
Lindholm Signs Two-Year Extension With Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm, C, CAR
8/27/2015
News: Elias Lindholm signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Analysis: Elias Lindholm was a solid contributor in his first full NHL season in 2014-15, registering 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games with the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Carolina this season, and should have a great shot at improving upon his offensive numbers from a year ago as he continues his development as an NHL forward.

Patrik Berglund
Blues' Berglund To Require Shoulder Surgery
Patrik Berglund, C, STL
8/27/2015
News: Patrik Berglund aggravated a dislocated right shoulder while working out and is set to undergo surgery Friday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. He'll require at least four months of recovery time.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund first dislocated the shoulder in 2013-14, and required surgery last offseason to address the issue. The center was able to recover in time from that procedure to play on Opening Night last season, but given how late in the offseason calendar the setback occurred this time around, it looks like Berglund won't take the ice again until the calendar flips to 2016. His extended absence could allow prospect Robby Fabbri to claim third-line center duties out of training camp, with veteran Scott Gomez also in the mix if coach Ken Hitchcock prefers a more experienced option for that role.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Signs PTO With Blues
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/27/2015
News: Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Thursday, Andy Strickland of FOX Sports Midwest reports.
Analysis: After failing to garner a contract in free agency for the second straight offseason, Scott Gomez will again head to training camp on a PTO, as he did last season in New Jersey. Though he wasn't able to crack the Devils' Opening Night roster, he continued to work out with the team after the tryout period ended and was eventually signed to the team when injuries opened up an opportunity in late November. Gomez would end the season as one of the more productive contributors on the offensively challenged Devils, finishing third on the team with 34 points. The Blues boast a far deeper roster of forward talent, but with the news surfacing after Gomez's signing that Patrik Berglund would miss at least four months following shoulder surgery, an opening on the third line could exist for the 35-year-old.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Still On Schedule With Rehab
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
8/27/2015
News: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently that Max Pacioretty (knee) remains on schedule in the rehabilitation process, Arpon Basu of LNH.com reports.
Analysis: Max Pacioretty sustained the knee injury while working out in Florida in early July, and was given a projected recovery timetable of 10-to-12 weeks. Given the length of the timetable, Pacioretty is expected to sit out all of training camp, and while his availability for the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Toronto remains possible, he'd likely be subjected to limited minutes in the early going as he looks to build endurance. Once back to full health, Pacioretty should reemerge as the Habs' most dangerous offensive option after he potted 37 goals and a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.

Ladislav Smid
Flames Expecting Smid Back For Training Camp
Ladislav Smid, D, CGY
8/27/2015
News: The Flames' front office believes Ladislav Smid (neck) will be ready to skate during the team's first on-ice session at training camp in September, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ladislav Smid's season came to an end last January when he required surgery on his neck, but his communication with the Flames to this point in the offseason suggests he has recovered well from the procedure. If healthy, Smid will compete in camp with Deryk Engelland for a spot as Calgary's sixth defenseman.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Likely To Play Next To Kessel
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
8/27/2015
News: Coach Mike Johnston said earlier this week that Sidney Crosby is expected to play next to Phil Kessel to begin training camp, CBS Sports reports.
Analysis: The Penguins have cycled in a number of right wingers next to Sidney Crosby throughout his career, and while Patric Hornqvist proved capable in that capacity last season, he's not nearly as prolific at finding twine as Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. With his health concerns beginning to fade away after missing only seven games over the last two seasons, Crosby once again looks like a reasonable choice at No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, even after scoring only 28 goals in 2014-15, his lowest total in any year he's suited up for at least 60 contests. Crosby probably won't come close to approaching the 51-goal peak he reached in 2009-10, but a slight uptick in his anomalous 11.8 shooting percentage coupled with the likely increase in assist opportunities with Kessel blitzing the net could make a return to 100 points conceivable.

Mike Richards
Charges Announced For Ex-King Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
8/27/2015
News: Mike Richards was formally charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada stemming from a June 17 border stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: The Kings determined the incident gave them just cause to release Mike Richards for a "material breach" of his 12-year contract, a decision that prompted the NHL Players Association to file a grievance. The nature of the border stop likely won't affect the outcome of that legal battle, as both the NHLPA and the Kings were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Currently a free agent, Richards is able to sign with any team while the grievance remains underway, but his steep decline in performance over the last few seasons coupled with this ongoing dispute probably has few organizations interested in his services.

Kyle Okposo
Isles Begin Contract Talks With Okposo
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
8/26/2015
News: Kyle Okposo and the Islanders have begun talks on a new contract, according to Islanders Point Blank.
Analysis: Both sides are hoping to get an agreement done before the start of the season but the parameters on a new deal could be difficult to negotiate. Kyle Okposo will make $4.5 million this season and could command a deal north of $6 million per year on the open market, a figure the Islanders may not be willing to approach at this time. If the two sides can't come to an agreement before the start of the season then Okposo's name will be one we will hear quite often in trade rumors.

Sami Aittokallio
Avs Re-Sign Aittokallio
Sami Aittokallio, G, COL
8/26/2015
News: Sami Aittokallio has re-signed with the Avalanche on a one-year, two-way contract, General Fanager reports.
Analysis: Sami Aittokallio appears to be the clear No. 4 goalie in the Colorado organization behind Semyon Varlamov, Calvin Pickard, and Reto Berra, so it's somewhat surprising he elected to commit for another year rather than bolt for Europe. Even so, Aittokallio's contract does at least include a clause for him to play overseas if he isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the Avalanche, potentially opening the door for him to leave the club if he's assigned to the AHL out of training camp, as expected.

 
 
 
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